Admittedly, I’m eagerly anticipating Google’s Chrome OS later this year. In fact, I couldn’t wait that long, so I installed an early build on my netbook to poke and prod. Not all of you live in the ether between cloud and browser like I do, and that’s fine. We each have different computing needs and tasks to do — it’s only fitting that we have differing opinions on a browser-based operating system. But I believe that some are drawing conclusions too early in the game. Google’s operating system for the future just might not be as limiting as you think.
I felt that way prior, but after reading a very lengthy, candid interview over at Ars Tehnica, I have even more faith that Chrome OS could easily meet my needs — and maybe yours too. The engineering director for the Chrome OS project, Matthew Papakipos, and Eitan Bencuya from Google PR sat with Ars to chat about Chrome OS, HTML 5 and where this is all heading. I recommend reading the entire interview if you’re even remotely interested in Google’s operating system efforts, but this tidbit solidified the hope I have for the platform:
“Another big aspect to what we’re doing is we’re integrating a whole media player into Chrome and into Chrome OS. People often get confused about this, and it’s a fairly subtle but important point. Because in a sense what we’re doing is integrating the equivalent of Windows Media Player into Chrome itself… …[f]or example, you might just have a USB key that has a bunch of MP3s on it, so you want to be able to plug that in and listen to those MP3s. There might not be any controlling webpage for that activity, but it’s clearly something you need to be able to do in any reasonable operating system or browser. So we’re doing a lot of work to make Chrome and Chrome OS handle those use cases really well.”
Many folks figured that media playback wouldn’t be possible on Chrome OS because it’s considered to be just a browser. But it’s not — there are actually two platforms at play here: Chrome and Chrome OS. We know that Chrome is the browser, because it exists today. However, that browser sits atop a Linux kernel and those two combined are the Chrome OS. That means Google can add what we consider to be standard operating system functions outside of the browser. Perhaps the client to control those functions is the browser, but you have to think beyond what a browser can do today.
That example aside, the entire article is fascinating. Not only does it explain where Google is heading with the Chrome OS, but also how it’s getting there. Around 200 Google employees are using devices powered by Chrome OS and their usage is tracked at detailed levels. As new features or builds arrive, the engineers see if Chrome OS usage has increased or decreased. It’s like a mini-focus group that indirectly provides requirements which in turn get coded for the test cycle to begin again — iterative development on steroids, if you will.
And while I might look to use a Chrome OS device for most of my workday, that doesn’t mean it can’t be an “every now and then” device for others. In fact, Google isn’t trying to define the target user, which is a very different approach from historical computer design methods. Papakipos explains his personal use-case:
“I have three different machines at home, and I started leaving them in different rooms: one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and one in the family room. And it’s amazing how often you just pick it up, look up one piece of information, and shut it off. And you’re done with that whole transaction in 45 seconds. Which is awesome, because sometimes that’s all you want.”
Related Research: Google Chrome OS: What to Expect“